The Jesmond bushland may be a nature reserve, but it also contains a fair amount of rubbish from 200 years of European settlement. However, the garbage of one generation can become the historical artefacts for a later generation.
A few years ago, amongst the discarded soft drink bottles and cans of this age, I found half a brick bearing a partial inscription “EJ & J PE… LTD STOU…” With a bit of guesswork as to what the missing letters might be, an internet search revealed that it was from the EJ & J Pearson Firebrick Works in Stourbridge, in the Worcestershire district of England.
Firebricks are a specialised kind of brick that can withstand high temperatures, and are used in the inner linings of furnaces or kilns. Although they were being made in Australia in the 19th century, they were considered inferior to those from the ‘mother country’. Stourbridge in England was the celebrated hub of firebrick manufacturing. The Sydney Morning Herald reported in 1879 that “the Stourbridge fire bricks are known all over the world for their durability; indeed the clay used for this purpose cannot be surpassed.”
The “EJ & J Pearson” company was one of many brick makers in Stourbridge, and was founded in 1860 by Edward Jewkes Pearson and John Pearson. By 1903 the company operated three sites and were producing approximately three-quarters of a million firebricks per week, to be used in England and around the world.
The brick that lies in the Jesmond bushland would probably have been used in a furnace, perhaps to provide air ventilation for the Lambton Colliery, or possibly to heat a boiler that powered a steam engine. It is impossible now to know its exact purpose, or what year it arrived on our shores. But this well-travelled brick is a reminder that Newcastle with its port and industries has been from the beginning, and remains to this day, a globally connected city.
The article above was first published in the February 2019 edition of The Local.
More photos of the Stourbridge brickworks can be see on the www.stourbridge.com website.
For simplicity, in the published story I referred to a single brick that I had found in the Jesmond bushland. I actually found two EJ & J Pearson firebricks, the second one located about 15 metres away from the first
The regard for Stourbridge fire bricks is exhibited in a newspaper report on 31 December 1884, on the silver mine at Sunny Corner (between Bathurst and Lithgow), where it is stated that …
“Just now the larger furnace is idle, the brick lining having been burned out. This was of colonial fire bricks, but did not prove suitable, and only the best Stourbridge bricks will be used in future.”
The Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History has a number of pages relevant to the EJ & J Pearson firebricks
The history of the EJ & J Pearson company is a long and convoluted one of mergers, take-overs, name changes and de-mergers. After a merger in 1957 they became “Price-Pearson (Refactories)”, and then merged with “J. and J. Dyson” in 1968. The present day company “Dyson Technical Ceramics” can trace its history back to the original EJ & J Pearson company.
|Article Date Event Date||Notes|
|9 Jan 1878||Import list of the ship Flensborg, showing that 5000 fire bricks from Stourbridge were landed at Port Pirie in South Australia.|
|20 Sep 1879||"The Stourbridge fire bricks are known all over the world for their durability; indeed the clay used for this purpose cannot be surpassed."|
|31 Dec 1884||Stourbridge firebricks are held in high regard … "Just now the larger furnace is idle, the brick lining having been burned out. This was of colonial fire bricks, but did not prove suitable, and only the best Stourbridge bricks will be used in future."|